‘When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. The the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he promised him.”
Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing — to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”‘ (Genesis 18:16-26, NIV)
‘Then he said, “May the LORD not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”
He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” (Genesis 18:32, NIV)
Judgment or the Grace Mitigation
For the past four years or so, an ugly civil war has ravaged neighboring Mexico, primarily along the border with the United States. It is a war waged against an insidious criminal enterprise, much like the bootlegging gangsters battled by the U.S. government during the Prohibition Era of the 1920s and 30s. In an attempt to wrest control of entire jurisdictions from powerful Mexican drug cartels, the Mexican government and army have been entrenched in daily gun battles in city streets resulting in a four-year death toll of over 34,000 souls. In the United States, the first three weeks of the New Year 2011 erupted with shooting-related violence along our southern border with Mexico, in and around high school campuses in the greater Los Angeles area of Southern California, and most notably in a single incident in Tucson, Arizona. In the Tucson incident, a lone gunman shot and killed six and wounded fourteen in an apparent attempted assassination of an U.S. Congresswoman at a grocery store.
Such shocking violence in both countries (and so close to home) leaves a stark reminder of the pervasive nature and presence of evil in this world. Without justice, evil persists and prevails. The outcry for judgment and a reckoning for such wickedness does not go unnoticed by mankind nor by God. In the courts of mankind, lawyers litigate the circumstances and facts and often mitigate the penalties under the law. But in God’s court, the sins of mankind demand atonement and their evil deeds demand a reckoning. Both sin and evil bring judgment because of the Law of God delivered through Moses. According to the New Testament, the Grace Mitigation for the penalty of sin was given in the form of the atoning sacrifice of God’s Only Son, Jesus. Who is better qualified to judge mankind than the God who became a man, was condemned and executed by mankind, and made Himself the atonement for all of mankind’s sin?
Of course modern critics of the Old Testament presentation of a wrathful God feel the image conflicts somewhat with the concept of God as the “God of love.” Such criticism attempts to isolate God into a category of “either, or” rather than the possibility of both. Consider the seeming dilemma of an American patriot who loves freedom, yet takes away the freedoms of other Americans because the same law (which grants freedom under the Constitution) demands it: that American patriot is referred to as a Judge. The model American Judge is the image of an impartial authority who weighs matters according to the law and administers justice. This authority of the Just Judge was created in the image of God Himself.
But the wrath of God is more than the eternal administration of justice. In surgical terms, it is the excising of a cancer from the body of God’s Creation. In order to rid humankind of all darkness and eternal death, sin had to be destroyed in accordance with God’s law. Yet the matter of free will under the same eternal law grants each human being a choice in the matter: To abide by the law or be condemned under it. And since sinful mankind cannot abide perfectly under God’s law, God extended His perfect grace (in love) to mankind to save them from impending judgment and wrath. Still there must come a time when all decisions have been made and the Day of Judgment arrives. Then, the eternal choice will fall to Judgment or the Grace Mitigation, both administered by the same Judge.
In biblical terms, the wrath of God, once released, is cataclysmic and irreversible as it is spilled off the cusp of His cup of eternal judgment. Like a volcanic eruption, all who find themselves in the flow of God’s unbridled wrath can no longer hope to escape and must perish. Enter the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities whose leaders and inhabitants were so wicked and unrepentant God was compelled, by the very nature of their evil deeds, to investigate the reports of their wickedness firsthand. And after revealing his intention to His servant Abraham, God removed the only impediments to His wrath against Sodom and Gomorrah: The nephew of God’s righteous man, named Lot, and Lot’s family.
Once again, as with the story of Noah, there was a relationship between the righteousness of one man and the impending wrath of God in the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Regardless of whatever conclusions may be drawn as to the tipping point of God’s wrath, the fact that God spared Lot and his family speaks volumes about God’s patience, long-suffering, and mercy for the sake of the righteous, particularly a righteous man named Abraham.
It is wise to consider, for the sake of others around you, to do your very best to be righteous before God. God favors the righteous. He searches the world to find them and the rest of the world is blessed by God through them. I pray that God may find you in your righteousness before Him.
(copyright 2011, Gregory Allen Doyle)